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Photo ©: Bettini

Team TORQ diary

The TORQ team
Photo ©: Evan Jeffery
(Click for larger image)

The UCI-registered Australian TORQ/VIS mountain bike team team, features some of Australia's top racers and future stars, including VIS scholarship recipients like Tory Thomas, Robbie Hucker, and Cal Britton.

For 2008-2009, TORQ racers are targeting the Australian MTB National Series, National Championships and Oceania Continental Championships. The team's top priority is racing Olympic distance cross country events, but it is also mixing things up with some short track, marathon and endurance events - and maybe even some road races. Some members will head abroad for the World Cups – an important part of Australian national team selection process for the 2009 World Championships to be held in Canberra, Australia.

Dan McConnell, who represented Australia at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, is perhaps the team's most well-known member. James Maebus, Katherine O'Shea, Joanna Wall, Luke Fetch, Steele von Hoff, Paul Weymouth are also on the roster. Members will take turns writing diary entries.

April 10, 2009

"Racing" the inaugural Terra Australis

Katherine O'Shea and Dean Clark are treated to stunning views
Photo ©: Gen Clark
(Click for larger image)

It feels a little weird for me to be writing about the Terra Australis – although I was in a team of three with Dean and Katherine, and one of the event Ambassadors, I have to confess straight-up that I didn't actually ride any of the stages. I was, boringly, too sick to race, so I spent my days wandering between bed, the Mount Beauty medical Centre, and enviously watching the event from outside the bunting.

I can't pretend to have insight in to the experience of racing this event, therefore I've borrowed a few words from the rest of the Torq team – these are included towards the bottom of the entry. Happy reading!

Terra Australis: the Vision

Sunrise at the start of Stage 2,
Photo ©: Russ Baker
(Click for larger image)

The Terra Australis Epic was master-minded by Finishline Events, an event management company which comprises three guys from the local area – Iain Moore from Mount Beauty, and Clayton Neil and Paul Fitzgerald from Beechworth. Their vision for the event was for a race "in the true spirit of the Trans Alp, Trans Rockies and Cape Epic". Put simply, they wanted to create a race that was as tough, as challenging, and most importantly as rewarding as the best mountain bike stage races in the world. How hard could that be?

The Race – one of the world's most beautiful battles

Dan McConnell and Luke Fetch
Photo ©: Russ Baker
(Click for larger image)

The Terra Australis Epic was a tough race with seven stages in seven days, 60 riders, 28 teams, one million stories, 577km of trails and stunning views, and 15,000+ metres of ascent - Ouch!

From where I stood and watched enviously from the sidelines, the event was a huge success. Although only sixty riders fronted up nervously to the start line at Falls Creek, there were sixty massive grins on faces when I met up with everyone at the Gala dinner on Saturday night in Wangaratta. As I sat and listened to the hilarious tales that were created during the week, I really felt like I'd missed out on something special. I don't know if it was the delicious wine blurring my senses, but it really did seem to me that the riders, volunteers and support crew were literally glowing with that priceless sense of achievement.

That's dedication! One of the event mechanics gets an early start
Photo ©: Russ Baker.
(Click for larger image)

According to riders, one of the best things about the event seemed to be the friendships and camaraderie that developed amongst riders and event support crew during the week. According to Torq team owner Dean Clark, the event was made more enjoyable and more special because of the way teams would race head to head for hour upon hour, pushing each other to their physical limit, but then paying out on each other in typical Australian fashion and balancing the sweat and burning legs with a lot of laughter and comic relief (Dean is an Englishman, so is obviously the target of many of our jokes).

The Torq Team – I know I'm biased – but the Torq crew were awesome, on and off the track. As usual, Gen supported riders throughout the event, unrelenting in her energy and dedication and not seeming to mind being sleep-deprived and hectic and rather pregnant! (amazing effort Gen!) In terms of results, Torq did pretty well. Katherine O'Shea and Dean Clark took out the mixed three category (yes, without me riding a single stage – humbling!), Dan McConnell and Luke Fetch won the open men's category, with James Maebus and International Import (and UK Torq owner) Matt Hart finished in fourth place. In addition to flies, mozzies and snakes, Matt also had to deal with an infection in a cut that apparently "strengthened his character", an onslaught of Australian Slang that included terms such as "pigrooting up a climb", and a few lessons about Australian fauna that included learning that the hoo-ha sounds ringing through the trees were in fact Kookaburras and not monkeys.

The race in summary

James 'Jimmy' Maebus looks happy
Photo ©: Russ Baker
(Click for larger image)

As a team, Torq sat together as a team and sifted through their stories of hardship and hilarity to snatch a few of the best moments. A few of these highlights are included below:

- riding through Cobungra Station and through a herd of stampeding cattle (and surviving…!)

- the flocks of Butterflies on the massive Mount Buffalo descent

- the eight (or so?) river crossings during stage 3

- the enormity of stage 4 turned out not to be an April Fool's Day joke – the120km course over rough terrain with 3,200m of climbing was deadly serious!

- at the end of Day 6, Matt Hart believing he was one of the few Englishmen to have achieved true greatness

Not such a bad view
Photo ©: Russ Baker
(Click for larger image)

- the random singing guy with a guitar who appeared on the top of hills during the week

- laughing at each other (and yourselves) and laughing away the soreness and exhaustion at the end of a suffer-fest day on the bike

- the feed stations.

Another page opens…

As Torq closes the page on the Terra Australis Mountain Bike Epic and the 2008-09 domestic cross country season, another page opens. It's an exciting year for mountain biking in Australia. Despite more funding losses from a mountain bike program already starved of funding, the mountain biking bug seems to have bitten riders hard – there are going to be lots of Australians paying their own way to cross country World Cups this year, with many chasing international race experience and most chasing a chance to represent Australia on home soil at this year's cross country World Championships. This kind of enthusiasm for international racing and level of participation by Australians in World Cup events hasn't happened in Australia for a long time – it's pretty awesome!

Riders before heading out for the final stage
Photo ©: Russ Baker.
(Click for larger image)

Although it's the end of the race season for domestic riders, for athletes wanting to earn selection for the national cross country team, it's the start of the long and challenging process of chasing UCI races around the world.

Dan McConnell and Katherine O'Shea had to make a slippery departure from the finish line of Terra Australis to make it to the airport in time to catch their plane to the first cross country World Cup in South Africa. They'll be met in South Africa by fellow Torq team rider Cal Britten, as well as a handful of other Australians including riders from the only other Australian UCI mountain bike team, the Cycling Australia team.

Jo Wall and I are planning a quick trip to Mont Sainte-Anne and Bromont in the middle of the year for World Cups number five and six. And a few other Torq team riders are still considering their options. For those of us left in Australia, we'll have road races, endurance races, and a new Torq baby (courtesy of Gen!) to keep us entertained!

Thanks for reading,
Tory Thomas


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Gen Clark

Images by Russ Baker

See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the Oceania Championships.